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Years before “Doom” was associated with a hell-gate on a Martian moon, it stood for Doomawangara, a remote, dangerous planet that has been the final resting place of adventurers foolish enough to seek out its treasures. Of course, in the Doom trilogy, you play just another fool in that queue, but you have advantages over those previous visitors- namely: game restarts, game saves, and unlimited UNDOs (depending on your interpreter).
The Doom trilogy is not fair by today’s standards. You will not beat the games on the first playthrough (nor the 30th, most likely), and each of the games has at least one puzzle edging on “completely insane”. Still, if you are okay with insta-deaths, mapping (including some mazes), and don’t get too ornery when you have to hit up a walkthrough (luckily, there is one for each game on the IF archive written by Richard Bos), there are enough nice, satisfying moments that I’d still recommend it to people looking for a fun, old-school distraction.
Still, it’d probably be best to give some advice on how to play these games-
1. These games continue the Phoenix tradition of not using “EXAMINE” (or any variation thereof) for looking at objects. Everything you need to know about an object is listed in its room or inventory listing.
2. Map everything, even when it costs you life to do so. The games are very much designed for trial-by-error.
3. “Rods” are supposed to be wands, I guess, and as such, they are meant to be waved.
4. There are several chemistry-related puzzles, so keep that in mind.
5. Read closely. Sometimes your one hint concerning something will be some throwaway bit of text that is printed and never mentioned again.
6. Figuring out the order of doing things is often part of the puzzle.
7. Type “HELP” early on to get an overview of any game-specific notes or commands.
Ok, let’s get to the game itself.
Return to Doom
Return to Doom, as one might expect, continues our adventures on Doomawangara. This time, though, it’s a rescue mission. Early on, the game is injected with death- and not just deaths of our fair protagonist- which successfully ratchets up the sense of dread. Getting to the midgame is quite an ordeal in itself.
Once there, there’s a nice Wishbringer-esque mechanic that allows the player to get past puzzles he or she otherwise can’t, but that mechanic can only be used once (and in most case, shouldn’t be used at all). Still, it’s an interesting way to inform the player of normally-inaccessible areas.
The game *must* be played with a transcript on, or at least, keep certain info available in your scrollback, as several puzzles (some horribly obscure) hinge on several facts given in one infodump (a repeatable infodump, but still). Also, there are a lot of options to explore when one gets to the midgame, and finding the areas to solve first takes a somewhat unfair amount of floundering.
On the plus side, this game has even more dinosaurs and even (Spoiler - click to show)EVIL ROBOTS. There’s even some quite exciting action sequences, given you have the right objects to survive them. Without saying too much about it, Return to Doom adds a Floyd-like character that brings its own usefulness and personality to the table. Despite the lack of direction in the midgame, lost time spent exploring the wrong area is still decently enjoyable.
Still, Return to Doom has probably the most unforgiveable puzzles. I’ll take some time here to list the worst to save future players the trouble:
1. I seesaw what you did there.(Spoiler - click to show) For a game series that has a fair amount of chemistry and physics (although admittedly, it doesn’t take either very seriously), I was particularly annoyed by a seesaw mechanic where you have to throw a heavy rock to the other end of the seesaw, where this rock is supposedly heavy enough to force the seesaw to propel you across a gap.
2. Oh, look, another rod!(Spoiler - click to show)It’s not a big spoiler to say that in this game, waving the magic rod produces some oily black smoke. At least one of the locations you use it was fairly nonsensical, I thought.
3. No you tornadon’t!(Spoiler - click to show) There is one scene where you are walking among poisonous, thorny bushes while a cyclone is approaching. Somehow, walking in the right direction protects you from getting pushed into poisonous thorns. Even with a walkthrough in hand, I couldn’t understand the logic of the scene and it was largely trial-and-error.
4. Unfair weather fiend.(Spoiler - click to show) There is a machine with several unmarked buttons. Pushing each button will cause a weather phenomenon X turns later. Of course, this is only visible in outside locations, of which the weather-machine is not among. Worse yet, each button can only be used once.
5. Pterribly unclued.(Spoiler - click to show) At another part, you are being attacked by a pterodactyl-esque dinosaur. The correct way to survive this encounter is to >THROW a glass disc, which is basically a CD-ROM in the game world. Completely unintuitive.
6. The Daffodil maze.(Spoiler - click to show) At one point, you are traversing a maze of giant plants. Stay in any room for longer than a turn and you die, and there’s basically no logic as to which direction you can successfully go in. Luckily, it’s not a very large grid, but it’s still a pretty dumb part that can only be solved by trial-and-error.
7. Passwords.(Spoiler - click to show) There are a couple passwords in the game. How one is used is adequately clued, but the other just seems to be “use on a random forcefield 20 rooms away.” If there was a clue, I missed it.
This list ended up being longer than I initially thought it would be. That said, I’d still say that, for the most part, they didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much.
Notes about the port-
Not being familiar with the original, there *were* some messages that seemed a bit like porting mistakes, including one important bit of text that was missing completely (judging by what happens afterwards, it’s easy to guess what the missing text was about). If one cared, they could play the original (which is also available for free on the IF Archive) in DOSbox. That said, I doubt it’d be worth it to be deprived of various z-code interpreters’ unlimited UNDO capabilities.
As I did with Countdown to Doom, I can’t give this game more than two stars as I think it’ll only appeal to a certain type of player. Still, despite its weaknesses, I’d say the high points are even better than the previous game.
This time around, I used Trizbort to map the game. Trizbort allows for writing objects on the map and generally makes prettier maps. You can download the Trizbort file itself here or a PDF of it here. Warning: the map will contain spoilers.
(The full write-up of the series can be found at joltcountry.com.)